"Gratitude is the memory of the heart." – Jean Baptiste Massieu
"In the Earth military, when a soldier goes above and beyond the call of duty, our tradition is to give commendations – medals, letters of thanks, a note in the soldier's file and increased credibility. I've been on both the giving and receiving end… it's a great honor to do either. But this is not the Earth military, and the two of you… are not human. This is not your tradition. I… asked Delenn, and she said that the Rangers… don't have a tradition like this one; that every duty is performed honorably, without the expectation of thanks or recognition. So. You'll have to forgive my human pride that I… can't let go so easily." John ceased his pacing in front of the two young Rangers and smiled at them. They stood at attention, and they reminded John very much of the very first time he had ever stood before a commanding officer to receive something other than disciplinary action. It was an awkward feeling, he knew. Inside you were bursting with pride, but on the outside, you had to continue to present the image of the soldier you had been which had earned you the right to stand there in the first place. He softened his tone and spoke from the heart. "Lathann," he began, "You… were there for my wife when no one else was. I am more than willing to forget the fact that you indulged her in going on this mission. She would've gone with or without you, and I don't doubt that your presence helped her keep her strength throughout the process. And," he went on, his voice softening even more, "At the end, what you said to her… she doesn't remember. She may never remember. But I sure will." He offered a deep, slow bow of respect.
Ranger Lathann blushed. John had noted in his interactions with Delenn and other Minbari that it was especially apparent when they were blushing, moreso than with a human, because their faces were naturally so pale. "It is not right for one in a position so high as yours to bow so deeply to me." But Lathann met John's eyes, and John could see the pride that beamed there.
"I know who you are, and who I am, and I understand your traditions. I stand by my actions." He offered a small bow of his head, then turned to Tannier, to whom he once again bowed deeply in reverence. "And you, Ranger Tannier."
Tannier snapped more stiffly to attention. "Yes, sir!"
John shook his head and laughed gently. "At ease?" He suggested, cocking an eyebrow, and Tannier dropped to a slightly more neutral stance. "You have come a long way from the young man I met on Babylon 5 last year. I've been on your world now, living among your people every day, for six months. I have… advisors and staff who… certainly revere me, certainly treat me with respect, but… what you did for me… what you said to me… I dare say that no Minbari has ever reached out to me like that, and damn few of any other race, including my own. Thank you." John paused to gather his thoughts. "You are both wise beyond your years, and I am only sorry that my thanks… and, I hope, my friendship… are all I have to give in return."
"It is enough, Mr. President," Lathann said quietly. Tannier nodded in agreement.
"Can I ask…" John's gaze settled on Tannier as the young man spoke. "How is Entil'zha Delenn?"
John's smile broke any language barrier. "I'm on my way to see her now. You're both welcome to come. I think she has some things she'd like to say to you herself."
"I don't know that I can take much more." Tannier was smiling now. He inclined his head in curiosity. "Friends, Mr. President?"
Sheridan laughed again and clapped a hand on each of their shoulders. "For all that we have been through," he said, "You both have earned the right to call me John." He ushered them out of the presidential home and into a waiting shuttle.
Ranger Tannier had never held a baby before. He had no siblings, and though other members of his clan had children, he'd never been invited to feel the warmth of a new life in his arms. It was a great honor among Minbari that the mother and father would relinquish their hold on a newborn to another… so as he accepted the tiny bundle from Presi—from John, Tannier was at first unsure of what to do. He was seated at the head of Entil'zha Delenn's bed, and she seemed to be watching him very carefully – but she didn't appear anxious or upset.
"He will not break, Tannier," she encouraged after a moment. "Hold him closer. Relax," she coaxed, and he looked at her hesitantly, but complied. David shifted slightly, and then seemed to mold himself against Tannier's chest, apparently finding the robes he wore and the muscle underneath to be quite a comfortable spot indeed. "There, you see? I think he likes you." She was smiling, and her voice was softer than that of the Entil'zha Tannier was accustomed to. He wondered briefly if this was a permanent change, or something that would fade with the exhaustion that still haunted her.
The past two days had been such a whirlwind of pride and honor, Tannier wasn't sure he could fit it all inside his heart. To his amazement, tears threatened, and then spilled over as he studied David's sleeping face.
"We cry when our hearts are so full that they cannot hold any more emotion," Delenn said now. She was still smiling, still studying Tannier and the child carefully. "There is no shame in it." She reached out to touch Tannier's forearm reassuringly, and he nodded in response.
Delenn's gaze shifted to the foot of her bed, where Lathann sat in a chair next to John, the two of them wrapped in a deep conversation about precisely how Delenn had talked Lathann into the mission. John's tone wasn't angry – more genuine curiosity, she noted, as she brought her eyes back to her child and Tannier, allowing the other two men to think she wasn't listening.
"I'm telling you, this is something you have to learn about women. Human, Minbari… doesn't matter. This incident is a great learning experience," John was saying now. He was watching Tannier and the child as well, but he was leaning forward, gesturing toward Lathann as he spoke, his eyes on his family but his attention clearly centered on the Ranger at his side. "Someday, you'll find one you'll want to give the world to. You'll let her do all kinds of crazy things because you love her, but you have to understand – across the universe, they are sneaky, calculating and manipulative, and you have to be careful, or—"
"That will be enough of that, John." Delenn didn't look away from Tannier and the child as she cut her husband off.
Lathann stifled laughter. "Also, they have good hearing?" He asked.
"Something like that." John folded his arms across his chest and kicked his feet out in front of him, looking guilty. After a moment, he gave a yawn and stretched his arms over his head before leaning over to whisper in Lathann's ear through clenched teeth, "We'll continue this discussion later." He stood then, and walked to stand at his wife's bedside. "It's getting late," he said, reaching down to rest a hand on her head. He stroked her hair gently, fingers coming to rest at the bottom of her bone crest before she finally tore her eyes from Tannier and David to look up at him. "You should rest."
Delenn grudgingly nodded agreement. Tannier handed the child back to his mother and stood, as did Lathann, while John sat down in the chair Tannier had vacated. "Before you go." Delenn settled David into the crook of her arm. She studied his features a moment before looking up at the two young Rangers who stood before her. "I know that John has spoken to both of you to express his thanks and mine. Now I would like to do the same." From her reclined position, Delenn offered a bow of her head to each of them. "Your actions – as well as your… discretion… with regard to those actions - have brought honor to the Anla'shok, to your castes, to your clans and to your families. I find as I look at you now that I am proud to walk on the path beside you, and I very much cannot wait to see the men you will become. John was right to offer you friendship… it is very much a human thing to do, and I join him in that offer. But Minbari have our own traditions." She looked around, first making eye contact with each of the two Rangers, and then with her husband, who nodded encouragingly. "Su'zha," she addressed them collectively. Honored Ones. "And may Valen go with you."
John fixated on the simple exchange. He had used far more words to bestow his thanks… and yet he felt that somehow, with far fewer words, Delenn had said more. This was all that was needed. The two men bowed and exited, leaving the family alone.
"They call him Anla'shok Niall," she mused as John pulled his chair as close as possible, both parents peering at the perfect face of their slumbering child. "The Little Ranger."
John chuckled softly, reaching out with his index finger to trace the ridges of David's nose and mouth. "Maybe he will be, someday. He's a fighter, after all. Just like his mother."
"And his father."
"Well, I wasn't going to mention that." Husband and wife looked toward one another instinctively then and were caught in each other's gaze, unable to look away from the love that was reflected back.
"They told me what you did for them," she said now, the fingers of her free hand playing across the soft skin of David's cheek. "I know that adjusting to life on Minbar has not always been easy for you, but you are truly an honorable man, John. Slowly, my people are realizing that. Today, I believe you have ensured that the next generation of Minbari will remember you with reverence."
"Maybe." John sighed lightly and his smile turned sad. "I just wish I'd been able to do something to prove it to Lennier. Maybe then…"
"It would not have mattered."
"You don't know that."
"I do." David began to fuss, and she shifted him from her arm to a vertical position against her chest.
"Are you ever going to tell me what happened?"
"When I am ready. When the time is right. But right now… is not that time." She reached out a hand, and John took it firmly in both of his, lifting it to his lips to kiss her knuckles. "Now… is a time for us, for the future. Not for the past."
"Have I told you yet today…"
"Not before I tell you…" Her eyes were shining.
"How wise you are?"
"How wonderful you are."
"How beautiful you are?"
"How handsome you are."
"How much… I love you?" He leaned over, catching her lips with his, one of each of their hands balanced on David's back. Those fingers found each other and intertwined, completing the circle. Three is sacred… the thought flitted through John's mind, and as he broke the kiss and pulled back to look into Delenn's eyes, he knew she was thinking the same thing. Three is sacred… as we are now three.
"And you may repeat it… as many times as you like." Her voice was barely a whisper as she settled back against the bed beneath her and closed her eyes, her body relaxing in surrender to much-needed sleep.
"I intend to." It was an old joke between them by now, this gentle verbal exchange… oftentimes it would crescendo to the most passionate of exchanges, but… not tonight. It was changed now, he knew as his hand brushed over the back of David's head, feeling for the first time the two barely noticeable nubs that would grow as he did, eventually forming a bone crest. "To both of you." Delenn was asleep now, joining their son in the world of dreams. "I love you," John whispered now, fingers trailing again over the baby's face. Then he settled back in his chair, leaning back as much as he was able, and closing his eyes. He was pretty tired, himself. The doctors had said Delenn and David could probably go home tomorrow… he'd need all his strength for that. "Goodnight."